Welcome to the eleventh post in our ‘Reading for the environment’ series. Throughout the year we’re posting monthly articles complete with lesson plans and reading tips to help you focus on different aspects of the environment and raise environmental awareness in your English classes. Our Readers Blog primarily promotes the importance of reading in language education, but we also embrace the idea of caring for our environment. We believe that literacy and language development and environmental studies mutually support each other. To put it simply: the better your students’ literacy and language skills become, the more they will be able to learn about the environment and understand the urgent need to live in a sustainable fashion.
This month we focus on FASHION, following the themes of WINTER, SEEDS, RAIN, RIVERS, POLLUTION, FOOD, ETHICAL TOURISM, ANIMAL RIGHTS, ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION, and TREES, plus a special interview with environmental educator Rose Tiziana Bruno.
Fashion is a motivating topic for our students: they either love it or hate it, but they usually have an opinion about it! Fashion, or more specifically fast fashion, is also an environmental concern where students can be active and make positive change. Let's learn about sustainable fashion choices while we develop our language skills. We have some activities and projects to help you get started.
1 Build some fashion vocabulary
Use an Instagram page or a fashion magazine as an authentic resource to build some fashion-related vocabulary to get started. As you talk about different images, introduce a variety of word groups.
Adjectives: fashionable, trendy, smart, cool, unique, geeky/geek-chic, plain, drab, practical, posh, quirky, oddball, etc.
Tip: Ask your students about trending words to describe how people look.
Clothes: items of clothing and trends
Tip: Introduce new words such as
- fast fashion
- eco fashion
Materials: natural, synthetic, cotton, organic cotton, silk, linen, viscose, wool, leather, faux/vegan leather, rayon, polyester, nylon etc.
Tip: Ask students which materials are green and which are sustainable.
2 Fast fashion vs. slow fashion
What is fast fashion? What are the most famous fast fashion brands?
Write these words on the board and ask students to use them to define the term 'fast fashion'.
cheap - latest - mass market - on-trend - quality - rapidly
"The term ‘fast fashion’ refers to cheaply produced and priced garments that copy the latest catwalk styles and get pumped quickly through stores in order to maximise on current trends." (Reference: https://sustainability.uq.edu.au/projects/recycling-and-waste-minimisation/fast-fashion-quick-cause-environmental-havoc)
Then, talk about the reasons for the success of fast fashion brands. Ask students if they like or buy them and why.
Watch this video poem by Leah Thorn to introduce the downside and dangers of fast fashion.
3 Dangers of fashion: against people and the environment
Start with a short brainstorming session about how the fashion industry impacts the environment and people's lives. Here are some ideas to help.
- Child labour and lowpaid work
- Chemicals used during textile production
- Waste due to fast fashion
Then, read through some of these facts from the earth.org website.
- fashion production comprises 10% of total global carbon emissions
- dries up water sources and pollutes rivers and streams
- 85% of all textiles go to dumps each year
- washing clothes releases 500 000 tons of microfibres into the ocean each year, the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles
- fibre production has the largest impact on freshwater withdrawal
Reference: earth.org website
You can also analyze and talk about the infographics about textile production on the europa.eu website.
Here is an excellent short documentary by acclaimed director Andrew Morgan and activist Livia Firth about the fashion industry and creating a circular economy. Watch it in class discussing the meaning and implications of a circular economy or recommend it to your students for home asking them to write or record a short response.
4 Green fashion
One answer to the concerns raised by the fast fashion industry is sustainable or green fashion. Collect ideas on how we can be responsibly and ethically fashionable. Here are some ideas to start::
- Buy fewer items of clothing
- Recycle or swap your clothes
- Upcycle or repair old clothes
- Invest in one good pair of shoes or another piece of clothing
- Look around in the attic, in an old wardrobe: are there any pieces you can inherit from other family members?
- Find out about Green Fashion Week
- Find out why you should be careful about popular fast fashion brands and greenwashing
5 Do some fashion research
Ask students to investigate and report on fashion habits in your class or among friends. Students can find out:
- Where do they buy clothes?
- Are they aware of the dangers of fast fashion retailers?
- Do they think that upcycled or second-hand clothes are cool?
- Do they pay attention to the materials they wear?
- Generally, how sustainable are their fashion habits?
Here are some more questions to think about:
- What about your own wardrobe? Report on it.
- Write a list of brands and clothes you should not buy. Here are some ideas to check:
- Where is it made?
- What material is it?
- Do you know who made it?
6 Build a capsule wardrobe
A capsule wardrobe is a collection of timeless, high-quality clothes which will last for years. It means that you pick approx. 30 pieces of clothing that become the foundation of your wardrobe. Ask students to build a list about what would go in their capsule wardrobe.
7 Things to do with old clothes
Clothes that go out of fashion or become worn out often end up in waste, and eventually in landfills. This is the worst thing that can happen to old clothes. Collect some ideas about what we can do with old clothes.
by Elspeth Rawstron, illustrated by Nick Tankard. Level 5 / CEFR B1
When Caterina finds her great-great grandmother's diary in the attic she reads about her difficult life as a child worker in the local mill. Caterina starts thinking and soon she has started a campaign against a local boutique that sells cheap fashionable clothes. However, the shop belongs to Jake's uncle, Sanjit. Can Caterina convince Sanjit to sell ethically made clothes? And are Sanjit's suppliers what they seem?
This story introduces the idea of ethical fashion and helps students realize cost of the fast fashion industry, i.e. low-paid labour and child labour.
Holly's favourite place is the treehouse in the old oak tree in her garden. When her father decides to cut down the tree to build an office, she starts an unusual protest and moves out of her home and into the treehouse. Who will win the battle of the tree?
Holly's sister, Sophie, is obsessed with her clothes, makeup, and jewellery. The two sisters are opposites and they offer us a great way to start discussing different attitudes to fashion.
by Louisa May Alcott, adapted by Jennifer Gascoigne, illustrated by Cecilia Tamburini. Level 2 / CEFR A1/A2
This is the much-loved story of the four March sisters. Meg is the eldest and is about to fall in love. Then there’s tomboy Jo who wants to be a writer. Kind Beth who always puts other people before herself, and finally there’s Amy, the youngest and most precocious. Although times are difficult and their father is away at war, they never forget their sense of fun. Growing up is not always easy but it is very rewarding.
The March sisters think very differently about their looks. Meg loves pretty clothes, and Jo doesn't care about them. They also know how to sew and repair clothes. What do you do with clothes which need fixing? Have you ever made your own clothes? These are some questions to discuss. You can also watch the trailer of the latest film adaptation of the novel and talk about the beautiful costumes in it.
by Maria Cleary
What do logos on clothes represent? How much do your students care about them? Is a piece of clothing more fashionable because of a logo?
Read about logos in unit 7 about Canada in World Around and talk about logos.